PCOS – To Hell and Back

Heads up – this post will contain some TMI-ish mention of lady parts. Dudes don’t really read blogs, anyway – at least not ones I write – but just to be on the safe side, you’ve been warned.

As many of you probably know, I have Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome, PCOS for short. It is characterized by, among a few other things, polycystic ovaries. Every month, when our awesome bodies are gearing up to ovulate (release an egg for possible fertilization), several eggs, called follicles, are called up to the front lines. In a normal woman’s reproductive system, one follicle volunteers as tribute, and the others go back about their business. There, the “dominant follicle” (potential baby) grows and grows and then, when the time is right, releases an egg, resulting in ovulation. In a woman with PCOS, those homies who came up to the front never go back to where they came from, and end up hanging out all over the ovaries, some growing and growing. The “dominant follicle”, rather than releasing an egg, just hangs out, either growing or not making babies, making it very difficult for women with PCOS to conceive. Occasionally, maybe once a year, maybe a few times in a lifetime, these follicles will rupture, causing extreme amounts of pain. I’m sure you all either know someone who has experienced an ovarian cyst rupture or had one yourself. Almost every gal who has been so fortunate as to experience this has ended up in the emergency room for treatment. It hurts that bad. (Don’t worry if you’ve had it happen, ovarian cysts do NOT equal PCOS!)

Why the biology lesson, you ask? Because I need you to understand the situation I’ve been in. I had my first ovarian cyst rupture at the age of 11. After a night in the hospital and a very scary ultrasound, it was determined that the pain I was experiencing was a cyst the size of an orange bursting. An orange. That was the beginning of my PCOS journey.
I have now dealt with this awful disease for 18 years. That’s a literal lifetime. As I got older, it got worse. Every year. Then I had kids, and it got more worse. But wait, Jen. Didn’t you say that women with PCOS often struggle with infertility? Way to pay attention! You see, I have suffered, through the years, in agony, with extreme, atypical, and uncontrollable PCOS. A normal woman ovulates once a month. A woman with PCOS ovulates a handful of times a year, if that. I, for some unknown reason, was ovulating EVERY 8 DAYS. It used to be two weeks, then got worse. Then it was 10 days, but it got worse. And it finally leveled off that every 8 days, I was having a cyst rupture. Every 8 days, I was in agony for part of my day, in the type of pain that sends women to the emergency room. EVERY. EIGHT. DAYS. Because I was such a determined ovulater, a few follicles had the chance to break through, resulting in my gorgeous babies (whom I was told I would never be able to conceive without medical intervention). So while there’s THAT silver lining, every 8 days I was writhing in pain.
I saw, I think, 7 doctors last year, trying to find answers, help, RELIEF. Each time I’d leave disappointed or insulted. I’d go through testing with one doctor, just to be told I had PCOS and handed a prescription for birth control, the standard treatment. It didn’t help. I saw another doctor, went through the same invasive tests, just to be told I had PCOS and handed a prescription for birth control. Which didn’t help. I’d pick myself up off the floor, rally my spirits, and get the guts to try AGAIN. More invasive tests. More of the same results. More birth control. Every. Single. Time. Depressed doesn’t begin to describe me. Each time I had to explain, through tears, the awful symptoms. Each time I had to beg and plead for them to see my weight as a symptom, not a cause. Few listened. Some symptoms are too embarassing to tell the interwebz about, but you’re welcome to Google PCOS symptoms and imagine my life. Extreme fatigue, mental fog and confusion, acne, and the worst: incredible, soul-crushing weight gain. Once “my hormones came back”, we’ll call it, after I had my daughter, I gained 50 pounds in a single month. I could literally feel myself getting fatter and nothing could stop it. With being overweight comes a whole host of health problems, which God has thankfully spared me from. But it also comes with stares and assumptions and judgements and shame. I don’t look this way because I ate my way into Lane Bryant. I don’t look this way because I drink 2-liters of Pepsi a day, as one doctor suggested. I look this way because my flawed, human body is incapable of making the correct amount of hormones, and I was trying so very desperately to get someone to help me fix it. Doctor after doctor, disappointment after disappointment, suffering in silence and trying to explain why a hysterectomy wouldn’t fix it. The last doctor I saw I thought would surely be The One. She was very nice, more sympathetic than the others, and immediately got me scheduled for a morning of various surgical procedures. Friends, cannot express the depth of my absolute despair when I awoke from surgery to discover that nothing had been discovered, nothing had been removed, nothing would be different. I cried tears of absolute grief in the recovery room. I had incisions and no hope. The surgeon and my doctor hadn’t communicated well, it seemed, and only half of the procedures had been done. Only half of my uterus was explored. But the entirety of my heart was just shattered. Give me a moment to gather myself, I can’t see through the tears well enough to type.
It was hard. I kept trying and trying and trying, and no one was able to help. Rather than find out WHY my body was going rogue, they just handed me the cookie-cutter solution, no matter how many times I screamed that it wasn’t helping. I was in pain. Miserable. Fat. Something was wrong and there appeared to be no way to fix it, ever. Could I really live the rest of my life like this? I couldn’t let myself imagine another lifetime like the one I’d already experienced. So I just resigned myself, for the time being, to be a good little patient. I took my pills, I grew my cysts, I gained weight, and I lived in suffering. I prayed. Oh, how I prayed. Deep depression threatened to overwhelm me, creeping behind me like a shadow, ready to pounce. Like the pain, it was ever-present. Between the fatigue and my self-worth plummeting, I had no motivation. No joy. I knew God healed others, but for whatever reason, it did not appear to be His will for me. PCOS was, quite efficiently, ruining my life. I sought counsel in PCOS-specific forums, only to be shunned because I had been spared the pain of infertility. I was so alone, so sad, so ashamed, so hopeless. My birth control prescription ran out, and I had nothing left inside me to seek another one. Then it got a little worse.
You see, one of the symptoms of PCOS is elevated testosterone. Every woman produces a tiny amount of it, but some women with PCOS produce way too much. I, of course, am one of those lucky ladies. You can imagine the toll it takes on a woman’s womanhood to know that her ovaries are treating her like a man. Testosterone is believed to be the cause of the follicles that hang around and turn into cysts. It also causes acne, in grown stinkin’ women who have been out of high school for 11 years. (Just for future reference, asking someone about the rash on their face probably isn’t the best way to make them feel awesome.) It does other, more embarassing things, but it had one final blow to deal me: Hair loss. Male pattern baldness, to be exact. If you know me, you know of my hair. I’m not cocky, but I can admit that it is my crowning glory. It’s the one part of me that cannot get fatter, can’t get stretch marks. If I were ever to model, it would be for hair. I have lots of it, and I complain about the work, but the truth is that I couldn’t rid myself of the last-remaining quality I had to be proud of.
I started noticing TONS of hair coming out in my brushes, in the shower. I asked my hairdresser if she noticed a difference, but I have so much stinkin’ hair that she didn’t notice. But I did. I saw the handfuls coming out. I noticed when I started being able to wrap the elastic around a ponytail more times than ever before. Then I looked up and saw it: thinning hair, just like a dude. I was starting to look like Stabler on SVU, and feared I’d soon look like Cragen. I know, I know, there are worse things. I have a beautiful friend who has zero hairs. But to a photographer, who spends so much time surrounded by beauty, it cuts deep to not be proud of your appearance. As a woman, male-pattern baldness deals a heavy blow. I’d had enough. I couldn’t take it. I couldn’t be fat, pimply, tired, dumb AND bald. So I took to Google, where I earned my Google University medical degree.
Deep in the pages of a hippie healing site, I found a glimmer of hope. Well, not really hope, because I was so devoid of it at that point, but more of an it-couldn’t-hurt glimmer. Saw Palmetto. An herb used by men to lower testosterone, usually when fighting prostate issues. It made sense – if excess testosterone is causing all these problems, take a medication that blocks or lowers testosterone. DER. So I took my hiney to our local hippie store and bought the small bottle, just to try, and asked my Facebook friends to pray for me. A little over a week later, I was sitting on the couch, marveling at my baby’s-bottom-smooth cheeks. Maybe not THAT smooth, but smoother than my face has felt in about 15 years. If it helped nothing else, it helped with breakouts, so I ordered a big bottle and kept taking it. I had been taking it about a month (too soon to notice any difference with my hair) when I commented to a friend that I hadn’t had a cyst rupture in weeks. Weeks! Like clockwork, because that’s just how my body rolls, I felt it. The stabbing, burning, rumbling that starts when a cyst is rupturing. Only this one didn’t stop. It hurt. BAD. As bad as my unmedicated c-section. It hurt from my knees to my lungs, felt like my trunk was melting, and the only way to know that I could still breathe was to scream. I don’t know who was more scared: myself, lying on the bathroom floor, writhing and jerking and vomiting from pain, trying not to black out, or my poor kids, confused and unable to help. My amazing husband rushed home and took care of me, and I survived. Obviously. It was the worst rupture I’d ever experienced, and the pain never fully went away, so two days later I went to the emergency room to make sure I hadn’t experienced ovarian torsion (Google it) or something worse. A sonogram and a CT scan later, I got the greatest news I’ve received in a long, long time. While the ultrasound showed fluid from a ruptured cyst the size of a cantaloupe (OUCH), it showed ONE cyst. ONE. One single, solitary follicle. But Jen, you still have a cyst there! Yes, you’re right. And it’s a fairly large one. But 7 months ago, my most recent sonogram before that, my two ovaries were hosting more than 75 cysts. You’re reading that right. My left ovary had 31 and she stopped counting at 46 on my right. This was WHILE on birth control, the standard treatment for PCOS. I teared up with joy, felt light with hope, and just about hugged the doctor. One cyst. Just one. Years and years of trying to find help, trying to find an answer, years and years of disappointment and depression and pain… and only one cyst. 18 years of having “devastated ovaries” (doctor’s words). Only one cyst. Am I still fat? Yep. Do I still have a lot to fix and figure out and tweak? Yep. But now I finally, FINALLY have something I hadn’t dared to attempt again: hope. I know that there is something that can help me. I know that my body WILL respond to SOMETHING.
Please note that I am not a medical professional and hold no formal training in any type of healing, other than prayer. I am not one to be a conspiracy theorist who accuses pharmaceutical companies of creating customers more than assisting patients. But why hadn’t this herb been mentioned before? Go ahead and Google “saw palmetto for PCOS”, you’ll find tons of information, testimonials, and recommendations. Why had no single doctor mentioned it to me? Why did they sit in their offices and stoicly watch me sob, plead, beg for help, then only offer me synthetic hormones that they knew would not make a difference? Each different prescription I tried came with pages of warnings, side effects, interactions, and more. Each pill I took caused an unfavorable reaction in one way or another, and none of them offered any respite. Pain and pills, that was my life. But this natural herb, to which no one holds a patent, has done more for me in a month than nearly two decades of labratory medicine. Don’t get me wrong, I’m grateful to modern medicine. Without it I wouldn’t know that I had too much testosterone, wouldn’t have Benadryl or sonograms or scientific proof that what I’m doing is working. But I am ever so grateful to God for giving us natural, working medicine. I am grateful to Him for wisdom, for access to healthcare. Did I mention that I only have ONE CYST?!
I’m sitting here, still in pain from the massive cyst that just exploded inside me recently, trying not to be vain about the fact that I’m fat enough for something the size of a cantaloupe to fit inside my stomach, but I have hope. Not just hope, but excitement. I am going to continue my current dosage and begin more natural options to heal the rest of me that needs fixing. With God and His intentionally-created nature, I believe that I can find relief, can find a life that I live happily, without chronic pain. I sit here hopeful, happy, in the process of healing. It’s said that the follicles on polycystic ovaries look like strands of pearls. But today, friends, these are the only pearls I have on.

pearls

 

Are You Makin’ A List, Checkin’ It Twice?

Last night, while doing the final before-bed Facebook scroll, I saw about 4 posts of ladies referring to their list of Perfect Man Attributes. You know the list. The list of qualities that your future husband HAS TO HAVE, that you pray over and ask God for and measure every guy up to (until you meet one who is just so flippin’ cute that you want to bend the “rules”). You totally made one in middle school. And another in high school. And one after every church camp. Maybe when you got to college. Maybe after watching The Vow or something, I don’t know. I TOTALLY had one. And not just a puny list, it was accompanied by a drawing, colored in with map pencils, and ranked by importance. This fictional man that I prayed so earnestly for had blue eyes, dark hair, was 6’4” (I’m tall, the struggle is real), played baseball (not because I was an avid sports fan, but because I was a lustful teenager), and loved Jesus with his whole heart. My husband of more than nine years DOES have blue eyes and dark hair, but he doesn’t wear baseball pants, and, while taller than me, is not 6’4”. Does this mean that God did not honor my requests, that He wasn’t listening? No, it means my list was stupid.

I am a wedding photographer. I’ve lost count of how many couples I’ve had the honor of photographing, but I do know that I have not photographed a SINGLE bride and groom smiling, holding up their checked-off lists, giving a thumbs-up. I also have a degree in counseling, and I tell ya, either I missed the day our professors went over comparing lists in premarital counseling, or the topic just was not covered in the Marriage Preparedness and Strengthening units.  Jacob didn’t consult his checklist when tricked into marrying Rachel, he just knew that she wasn’t Leah. I don’t know how the phenomenon got started, but I can’t find anything to support it.

Don’t get me wrong, us gals deserve good things. And yes, God wants to give us the desires of our hearts. But how about instead of creating a list to mentally compare every guy you meet to, you compare every one to Christ. Does he love? Does he extend grace? Is he chasing after the Father? Consult the checklist in 1 Corinthians 13. Is he patient? Is he kind? Does he rejoice in wrongdoing? You are not shopping for a car. You are making yourself available to someone who you will spend your life with. Don’t set up parameters that can come and go like trends, measure him by the Word of God. Jesus would never slap you around. Jesus doesn’t get drunk and blow the rent money. Jesus doesn’t care about swag. God said He would never leave you nor forsake you. THAT’S what you need until you are parted by death. That’s someone who will stick by, in sickness and in health.

I have had several friends who have met incredible men, but were hesitant to pursue a relationship because of a deal-breaker from their list. “But he has a child from a previous relationship.” “But he has a giant face tatoo.” Listen, I would hate to think of how many times I would be deemed “unworthy” because of how I fell short of a list my husband may have dreamed up. Thank God He doesn’t count me out because of my mistakes. Thank God He doesn’t count me out because of ways that I don’t measure up. Stop worrying so much over the present circumstances of your ideal husband, and start praying over his future. Stop daydreaming about his physical qualities and start praying over his HEART. Don’t worry and fuss over the things he does before you meet him, but begin praying for him as your HUSBAND. Pray that he would exercise wisdom with your finances. Pray that he would lead your future family after God. Pray for your husband, not for God to make the hot guy who brings his guitar to youth camp INTO your husband.

But you know what list you should make? Make a list of the qualities YOU want to have as a WIFE. Pinterest has made weddings so romantic, but after that one single day, you’ll be a wife for the rest of your life. After you’ve found the guy, you’ll need to make it work every day after. Make a list of qualities you’d like to exhibit and pray over THAT. Compare to THAT. Will you be a patient wife? Will you support your husband in any career he chooses? Will you speak kindness over him? Will you publicly cheer him? Concern yourself with BEING the right person more than FINDING the right person.

God knew you before you were born. He knit you together. You are His masterpiece. The same goes for your future husband. God made him long before you put pen to paper. Open yourself up to Him, trust that God knows what He’s doing. In theory, if you are looking for The One, then every single man you meet but ONE will be him. Billions of no’s. Billions of Not The Ones. Don’t be discouraged. Don’t waste your energy and set yourself up for disappointment by comparing every man to a list. Pray for this unknown man’s heart, pray for God to prepare yours, and open yourself up to His will.

Resolution Writer’s Block?

Happy New Year, everyone!

It’s 2014, and my Facebook newsfeed has been full of friends and family making promises and vows about what their new year will look like, what the new them will look like. There’s the classic weight-loss resolution, the empowering getting-out-of-debt resolution, the humblebrag volunteering resolution. For every three resolutions that are shared, however, I’m also seeing opinions on resolutions – people rolling their cyberspace eyes at them, those who automatically assume no one will achieve their goals, those who don’t see the point. This blog post is not for those people. I personally love New Year’s resolutions. I think that any time someone takes an opportunity to examine themselves truthfully and challenge themselves to be better is a cause for celebration! Will they make it? Who knows. But the effort alone is something better than what they’d done before, so bra-flipping-vo to them. Every day is a new chance to try again, so if you’ve gained a pound by  January 2nd, so what? You have more than 360 days (I’m pretty bad at math) left to work at it! So I would like to challenge everyone who reads this to make at least one resolution, one vow to better themselves or the people around them. It can’t hurt to try, and it will only help if you do it! Well, except for my oldest, who announced that his New Year resolution was to get a Nintendo 3DS. I told that joker he better resolve to get a job. Below you will find some suggestions for resolutions. Most are pretty simple. I’m not numbering them, because I’m not Buzzfeed and everyone these days LOVES to number their suggestions. 10 Things to do after 10 PM? 17 Ways to Tell Your Mail Carrier Thank You? I’ll leave the numbers with skinny jeans, Crocs, and Pinterest in my “avoid at all costs” pile.

Anywho, please consider choosing a resolution to try! If it doesn’t work, pick a new one. January 1st isn’t a magical date (good, because today is the 2nd). Any time is a great time to be better! Tweak it to make it your own. Involve your whole family. Share it with others to keep yourself accountable or quietly do better. Either way, let’s all plan to do better in 2014. And please, leave your own suggestions in the comments!

 

Try a new trend.  It only takes guts!

Stand up straight. Throw those shoulders back and stare at the world head on. You’ll be surprised to see how much better posture positively affects your mood. Walk around like you’re supposed to be there, not like you were defeated before you got there. And while you’re at it, smile at people as you see them.

Chill out with the selfies. One every now and then is fine, since we want to see your happy, smiling face. But let’s be honest – if you post a weekly selfie, we get it already. And if you post one a week, or even – gasp! – daily, my New Year’s resolution was to hide you from my newsfeed. Self confidence is something you have within yourself, not something you choke others with. For the love, please stop driving and selfie-ing.

Take more photos with you in them. I know, this sounds like it contradicts what I just said. But there’s a difference between taking a photo with a friend or a nice family photo and sitting on a bathroom counter to show everyone what your hair looks like that day. Some day, many many years from now, your children or friends or family will want photos to remember you by. Your grandchildren will want to know what you looked like, be it overweight or skinny, hair done or not. They’ll want to laugh at how silly your clothes looked and marvel at how they have your nose. They won’t want a duckface bathroom mirror picture hanging in their hallway, and you don’t want a picture of you driving, pretending you’re not taking a picture of yourself, blown up and on an easel at your funeral. Jump into the picture and document this time in your life, regardless of how you feel about your appearance. If not for yourself, then for the people in the future who will inevitably want it.

Encourage someone daily.  Send an email or text to someone, compliment your cashier’s hairstyle or nails, pull aside a new mom and tell her she’s doing a great job. It doesn’t have to cost a dime. Take the time to tell a manager about exceptional service you received, send a note in the mail. It takes very little effort, and the smile on their face will almost always result on one on yours. I’ll be honest, I’ve taken screen shots of sweet Facebook messages I’ve received that have made my day. Everyone is always so busy, working so hard, so consumed, and it’s easy to let isolation or routine swallow you up. You may never know the impact that a simple affirmation can have on someone.

Yell less. Unless you’re at a sporting event or being attacked, how necessary is your outside voice? I’ll be honest, I struggle with this myself, often out of frustration at my kids. Yelling may make my words louder, but it rarely gets me heard.

Cook more. I’m grumbling as I’m typing this. I hate cooking. Well, I hate juggling three kids while cooking. I would much rather decide what sounds good and have someone else cook it for me, often better, and much, much faster. But cooking always saves us money, is almost always healthier, and sometimes even leaves enough leftovers for a pretty sweet lunch the next day.

Get involved in a child’s life. If you have a niece or nephew, a grandchild, or even a close friend with a child, please make the effort to be a part of their life. Kids are fascinating creatures. They’re only this age today, tomorrow they’ll be a little older. Children love and need attention, to be made to feel special. I am an only child, so I get extremely jealous and sad when I see or hear of children who have amazing aunts and uncles who are involved in their lives, who call them, babysit them, get excited about them, cheer them on at events. So make a phone call, make the effort. Go to a soccer game, ask them about themselves. Babysit (for free!), CARE. Investing time into a child will ALWAYS be worth it.  Children don’t know how to maintain a relationship when they are young, so you’ve got to do the legwork.

Stop asking me to do things without my kids. Let me clarify: Stop forgetting that I have kids. Without naming names, there is a couple in my life who I should have a better relationship with, but they keep forgetting that I have children. Three of them. Yet this couple’s closing statement the 2-3 times a year I see them is “We should go to dinner, just the four of us.” As stated above, I don’t have an abundance of people in my life who will step up and love my kids for a few hours while I hang out with you. And the babysitting I DO get, I like to use to get a rare date night with my husband. If you want to get closer to me, embrace my kids. Would I love to have a leisurely lunch without them? Oh yes. But if you make it a condition of our relationship that my kids not be present, you can kiss our relationship goodbye.

Plant something. A flower garden, a Topsy Turvey hanging tomato plant, or your feet on the ground, make something grow this year. Make the earth better. Make the air cleaner. Eat produce that you grew. Pick flowers that you watered. Take ownership and pride in something that can nourish your body or soul.

Vote. Learn about issues, local and national, that you can get passionate about and have a voice in. Not everyone has the right to vote, so make sure you appreciate and exercise yours!

Have a garage sale. This will clear your home of unused and unnecessary clutter, force you to give yourself a deadline if you set the date of the sale, and get you some extra cash. You can join together with friends or neighbors to help share the workload. Craigslist is spotty and Ebay takes time, but a garage sale is relatively quick and easy to pull off. How could your life not be better with less mess and more moolah? Bonus – Use the cash to pay off a bill!

Stop the Facebook game requests. Seriously. I can count on my hands the number of people I have ever deleted as a Facebook friend, but the majority of those few chosen were due to excessive game requests. Yes, now I know I can block requests from individual people, and believe me, I do. I once received over 20 requests in a single day… from a single person! The craziest part? All of the game requests – every single one – are from adults. Grown dang people. People with jobs and families. If you send me multiple game requests, I WILL simultaneously block your ability to do so and question what you do with your life. I’ve also noticed a correlation between the people who send large amounts of game requests and the people who complain about their lives. I’m not SAYING the games are the cause of unhappiness in their lives, I’m just saying maybe if they spent less time being grown dang people who play computer games and more time being grown dang people who engage in their real life, they’d see that there are blessings all around them.

Park better. If you find yourself with the wheels of your vehicle over the lines of the parking spot in 2014, take the time to back out and try again. Otherwise, someone else may resolve to key your vehicle or leave you a nasty note. Or just resolve that you’re not smart enough to park between two straight lines.

Listen. If it’s a child telling a never-ending and nonsensical story or an elderly man talking about his grandchildren in the grocery store, they’re telling you because they want you to hear it. Just listen.

Volunteer. Not to humblebrag. But to offer something that is invaluable and always there, no matter what your bank account says: your time and your heart. If you can’t give, help. Contact local food pantries to see if they need items or help stocking shelves. Contact local churches to see if they have outreach ministries. If you’re involved in a church, pray about what department you feel strongly about and could offer one day a month to help with. Mentoring or tutoring programs with schools or libraries. Women’s shelters. Nursing homes. Soup kitchens. Homeless shelters. Prison ministries. Pregnancy centers. Children’s hospitals. Do yardwork for a widow or even just mow your neighbor’s yard while you’re already out there doing yours. Contact someone who hasn’t been to church in a while and let them know they’re missed. Babysit – for free! Hug someone who has been hurt. Share your love as passionately as you do your political beliefs. Give of your time and heart and make a difference.

Accept people for who they are – not who you think they should be.  Many of the times in my life that I have been disappointed by someone, it is because I expected them to be someone else, or at least behave a certain way. If someone has always been a flake, then I can’t expect plans with me to change that. If children are inherently selfish, then I can’t expect mine to not struggle with sharing. My mother is bipolar, no matter how much I wish she weren’t. Loving someone who is bipolar is as much a roller coaster for you as for them (and I may blog about this alone in the future). But I was reminded by my aunt that she is bipolar no matter how much it affects me. I can either accept her as she is (and remind myself that sometimes there’s more illness than individual), or not at all. Yes, sometimes people just ARE that dumb. But getting angry about it won’t make them smarter or help either of you. The sooner you let someone else’s choices or quirks roll off your back, the happier you’ll be. Someone being rude to you has nothing to do with you – they’re just rude. So don’t take it personally and move on. My younger son does not behave the way my older son does. The sooner I accept that he is NOT my older son, the sooner I can appreciate what makes him so different. If someone is living a lifestyle different than my own, they are not doing so as a personal affront to me. I do not have the right to be offended that someone is different from myself.  Accept people for who they are, and your life will get infinitely happier.

Buy small. Maybe there’s a cute boutique in your town. Maybe you know someone who sews or embroiders or paints or builds. I’m sure you know a mechanic who works in a small garage. A hole-in-the-wall local favorite restaurant. I have dozens of friends involved in direct sales, everything from Scentsy to spa products, wine to supplements, jewelry, purses, home decor, makeup… I challenge you this year to use your dollars to support small businesses, small business owners, and local favorites. If you’re going to have to buy something anyway, see if you can support a friend while doing it. The customer service you’ll receive will almost always be better, products will almost always be higher quality, and your community will be directly influenced by your support.

Watch Impractical Jokers. Just once. You’ll laugh so hard you might pee yourself.

Reduce your ingredients, not your pants size. If you’re going to resolve to get healthier this year, do it to be actually healthier, not smaller. Diets are temporary. Changing your lifestyle will have much greater impact. Denying yourself a Snickers for all of 2014? Good luck with that. But educating yourself about the ingredients you introduce into your body will make you much more passionate about your health, and will probably have the added bonus of wittling away at your waistline.

Accept responsibility. The sooner you stop blaming others and accepting how your own actions affect you, the sooner you can do something about them to change whatever you’re unhappy with. Are you mad at the guy driving slowly in front of you? Maybe if you’d left on time you wouldn’t be so rushed. Friends keep letting you down? Maybe you asked too much of them. You have the worst parents in the world because they won’t upgrade your iPhone? Maybe you’re a spoiled brat. Accept that we’re all human, all fallible, and all capable of messing up our lives. Accept your responsibility. Then go a step further and do something about it.

Love on your pastor. And his wife. And his kids. Don’t have a pastor? Then find someone who pours into your life, encourages you, gives of their time, and love on them. Ministry is a largely thankless job that is definitely not pursued for the money. I’m sure this will end up being a blog post of its own in the future, as well, but for now, just know that pastors deal with a lot. While you’re at it, police officers, firefighters, EMTs, and many other professions where someone leaves their family to help yours is worthy of the occasional thank you. Muffins, gift cards, notes, hugs…. Take the time to thank someone who took the time.

Welcome troops home. Go to the airport, make a sign, and prepare to cry your face off. If you can’t make it to a homecoming, then adopt a soldier. Send cards or letters to deployed soldiers. If you live near a base, offer your home for Thanksgiving, Christmas, or really any meal for someone’s son or daughter who misses home badly. Their job is harder than yours, and they don’t see their loved ones as often as you do, so reach out, thank them, and do what you can.

 

As usual, I’ve gone on much longer than I expected to. There are countless ways to do better this year, so let’s hear your suggestions! Good luck everyone, and Happy New YOU!

Reasonable Expectation of Dignity

I don’t want to share this.

My hands are shaking. My heartbeat is visible through the skin over my collarbone. I’m so nervous and humiliated that I feel lightheaded. I do not want to share this.

But I have to. For a week I’ve been fighting this, and for a week I’ve tossed and turned and been awakened by my brain that seems to want to write this on its own. So while I don’t want to share this, I need to.

I love fashion. I hang out in sweatpants and Backstreet Boys t-shirts and revel in the no-makeup days, but I love fashion. I also love to laugh. It seemed a given that I would enjoy a marriage of the two, Fashion Police on E!. I DVR’ed the heck out of it, I wanted Joan Rivers’ job (and wardrobe!), I laughed, I looked forward to it. Until a few months ago when I read an interview with a random celebrity that I can’t even remember, but their words stuck with me. She said that she did not watch Fashion Police, because it was hurtful. The women they tore apart on that show left their house feeling beautiful, and those “judges” thought it was their place to say otherwise. Boom. I haven’t watched since.

Many of you know that I struggle with my weight. Yes, I say “struggle”. I’m still battling the irrational anxiety that has popped up in the last year. I went from fat and happy to fat and terrified. Terrified of what people thought, terrified of what people saw. Leaving the house means winning an internal battle some days. As much as I love to encourage others, I cannot seem to rally myself to hold my head up as often. Yes, my husband loves me and tells me how beautiful he thinks I am. Yes, I am HEALTHY. No, I never share this struggle with my children. Because this weight is beyond my control, I feel like I am grasping at nothing, drowning, falling down a well. I want to wear a sign that says “Yes, I know I’m overweight, but NO, I did not do this to myself.” I feel like I need to explain myself to the perceived disgusted public. It’s a truly overwhelming feeling to not have control over your body. Enter the hot tears. I can take captive every thought and make it obedient to Christ (2 Corinthians 10:5). But the outside? The part that people see? All I can do is shave my legs, do my hair, and put on some makeup. Well, it’s winter, so the legs can wait. I have literally had panic attacks in the middle of stores because I was so ashamed of how I looked and what I thought people were thinking. Again, I know it’s irrational. But again, grasping at nothing.

Last week, my worst fear happened: I caught someone taking a cell phone picture of me. This is where my hands shake and my heart races again. This person was trying to go unnoticed, pretending to check emails or Facebook, until the flash accidentally went off. I was sitting alone, just a bare wall next to me. When I climbed far enough out of my shame cloud to tell my best friends and husband what had happened, they all tried their obligatory encouraging alternatives: “Maybe it was your beautiful hair! Maybe they liked something you were wearing! Maybe this, maybe that…” Nope. Momma was having a ROUGH day that day. Ponytail, my black flats with the holes in them, glasses. Also, we had been chatting, so a compliment could have been offered up at any time. I also know that this person is a member of a very trendy gym, one that prides itself so much on fitness that the various branches host competitions for members to prove themselves. I’m not calling this gym out, I’m just saying that given this person’s trained way of thinking with regard to fitness, and my appearance that day, it is not hard to conclude why that person took a sneaky picture of me.

I’m fat.

As a fat person, I’m allowed to say that. It’s not the worst thing someone can be, so I’m okay with saying it. It’s just a descriptor, it’s not my identity. But when that’s all someone bothers to notice about you, especially as a woman, it hurts. You can’t tell by the picture that person took that I love my family and friends, that I’m a beast with a glue gun, that I can quote every episode of Friends, that I’m freaking funny and flippin’ awesome. That picture doesn’t show my dedication, my creativity, my desire to help other people. It doesn’t show the rivers of tears I’ve cried over pants that stop fitting, the number of doctors I’ve met with to find a cure, or at least a STOP. It doesn’t show the fear I have when I approach a folding chair, an amusement park ride, or when I pass someone leaving a restaurant. It doesn’t show the internal battle being waged by my hormones, how my body is turning against me, how I have no control and no end in sight to this horrible, horrible disease. But you know what it does show, that image of my outsides? It shows the insides of the person who took it.   

As a photographer, I can assure you that this person was within their legal rights to take my picture. Once you attend a public event, you lose what is called a reasonable expectation of privacy. As a human, I want to shout that they had NO right. I am a mother, a wife, a friend… not a punchline. I may not meet that person’s standards of beauty, but then again, I’m not trying to. I can call that person rude, judgemental, callous, a butthead… I can say whatever I want, but it doesn’t take away the shame. Again, I wanted to scream, “I didn’t do this to myself!” I don’t owe that person an explanation, but I was so humiliated that I felt the need to justify my measurements. Instead, I just hung my head. My worst fear, that a stranger was internally laughing at my appearance, had just played out in front of me. Me, the strong-willed, opinionated, loud, energetic force of nature, had been reduced to a lump of indignity. My friends and husband also gave me the obligatory accolades, but the facts that I’m caring, sweet, thoughtful, funny, or made of concentrated awesomesauce don’t show up in sneaky, malicious cell phone pictures. It hurt. Bad. It still hurts. Writing this has helped some, given me a sense of control over how I will react to it. Like I said, it says as much about the person who took that photo as it does about the way I look. But beyond a personal victory, I needed to share this so to offer my perspective, the person on the other side, the person who is likely in someone’s newsfeed with a crude caption.

Please consider this side the next time you do the same. People of Walmart can be hilarious and mind-boggling, and you KNOW there are people who dress that way intentionally in the hopes of a POW appearance (or the $50 gift card), but what about the innocent ones? The people who don’t have any fashion sense, the people who say “Screw it, it’s Walmart and I need toilet paper!”, the people who don’t have the money for nice clothes, or even a home to hang them in? What about the people who don’t have the mental capacity to arrange a Milan-worthy look, the people you see wearing holey clothes, too-tight clothes, too-short clothes, too-dirty clothes, too-ugly clothes, too-old clothes… what if those are all the clothes they have? Can you imagine how they would feel to see their photo on a website devoted to judging peoples’ appearance, to read the comments of strangers about how they look, when no one knows their circumstances? I myself am guilty of taking a sneaky photo of a cashier who was dressed exactly like Blanche from Golden Girls. But now I ask myself, “Why?” Why did I need the picture? Why was it my place to secretly tease this woman? And what pain and embarrassment might she have felt, what insecurities might I have unearthed if she’d noticed? When did our desire to judge and tease become greater than someone else’s right to dignity? If I am fearfully and wonderfully made (Psalm 139:14), if I was knit together in my mother’s womb (Psalm 139:13), if I am God’s MASTERPIECE (Ephesians 2:10), then so are you, so is Blanche, so are we all. Taking pictures and laughing isn’t going to change that person’s life for the better. And it certainly won’t make you a better person. So please, stop.